CALL Prereading Strategies for First-Year Russian Students

David J. Galloway, Cornell University


This project attempts to determine the effectiveness of two individual prereading strategies on the reading comprehension of first year, second semester Russian students. Practical value of this study is directly intended for the development and modification of reading programs in the original language which may be used without instructor supervision. These strategies are meant to fight the tendency towards word-for-word reading inherent in any program which offers clickable word-glosses. An array of prereading strategies, intelligently employed, will help to neutralize this student tendency and thus increase comprehension, especially on higher levels of textual understanding. While any prereading strategies would most likely improve comprehension, and in most cases all of those listed here would be best used in conjunction with one another, the study separates them to see what different aspects of the text each strategy best supports. Since strategies such as summaries in English and/or Russian have been shown to be effective, this project will not duplicate them.


This study seeks to answer the following questions:

1. Which types of prereading activities do students feel are the most successful in improving comprehension?

2. Which types of prereading activities actually do increase comprehension, as revealed by post-reading testing? (e.g., is there a disparity between 1 and 2?)

3. Does the use of prereading activities decrease the glosses and/or notes used by students?

4. What aspects of reading and comprehension does each strategy most improve?


All the student participants are enrolled in second semester Beginning Russian at Cornell University (n=13). The three texts used in the study are from Aleksandr Afanas'ev's Narodnye russkie skazki (1984), are "Baba-Yaga" (A), "Baba-Yaga" (B), and "Baba-Yaga i zhikhar’" (C). (Note that A and B are different tales.) Texts were chosen for their relative simplicity and the fact that they all concerned the same character, the witch Baba-Yaga. Each student reads all three texts, but each one with a different strategy of prereading employed. For example, a student reads text A with the vocabulary strategy, text B with no strategy, and text C with the schema activization strategy. Thus, different texts are read with different strategies


The strategies tested are:

Schema Activization (skazka)

This strategy introduces the structure of the fairy tale (skazka) by presenting some of its elements which are relevant to the texts being read: repetition, trebling, ritual words, magic items, etc. In addition, the strategy introduces the character of Baba-Yaga and her attributes through descriptive text and images. All of the information is geared towards practical use when reading the tale.

Multimedia Vocabulary

This strategy presents the student with 15 words and phrases from the text, selected on the basis of their significance for the meaning of the fairy tale. Each word appears in Russian. Students hear the word and a hint as to its meaning (using pictures, cognates, or similar forms) before viewing the translation.

All aspects of the study are included in a single, packaged program written on Macromedia's Authorware®. The program consists of introductory material, texts, evaluation, and comprehension sections, and analysis is written to independent data files by the program, together with statistics on the students' usage of various aspects of the text reading routine such as number and nature of glosses used, number of notes used, time spent, etc. The reading routine allows students to find the definition of any word or phrase with a click of the mouse; there are also explanatory notes in the text which may be clicked to give material which serves to explain events.


Students undertook the experiment in May, 1998. While final results are still unavaible, the following points can be made:

-No students, when asked to rate the effectiveness of the prereading strategies, stated that they were not useful. Of 13 students, 4 claimed the vocabulary prereading was most useful, 7 claimed the schema activization was most useful, and 2 claimed that both were equally useful. The schema activization seems to have increased enjoyment and understanding of the tales in the more abstract sense, but not to have enhanced vocabulary retention or comprehension.

-Students overestimate their use of glosses by an average of 50%, regardless of level of comprehension. Only when students use 100% of glosses does their estimate approach accuracy.

-Students were aware of their use of glosses and went so far as to suggest that they should be limited in gloss use in order to reinforce vocabulary. However, they differentiated between reading for comprehension and reading for vocabulary building.

-Prereading activities do not seem to affect gloss use if students have the option (as they did here) of unlimited gloss checking.